Seattle preps rules for police department's use of drones

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by LINDA BRILL / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 4, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 4 at 7:04 PM

City officials are developing rules for when and where Seattle Police can operate the tiny surveillance drones the department acquired earlier this year.

SPD's Dragonfly X6, with its tiny cameras, looks like a toy, but city leaders don't want police to play around with it.

"I literally have walked down the street and people stop me to say, I don't like drones. I hope you guys don't use them," said Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell.

At an October event where SPD introduced its drone to the public, there was an outcry. Several angry citizens voiced concerns about privacy rights. Harrell's proposed safeguards are designed to address those concerns.

Under the proposed rules, drones would be used only for data collection and not general surveillance. Use would be for a specific target, requiring a warrant. Drones would carry no weapons. Use would have to be authorized by a sergeant, and logs of use must be maintaned.

"This will not be a tool that the government can use to do general surveillance to get people doing something and then build cases against them," said Harrell.

The ACLU of Washington helped to write the proposed regulations, but the privacy rights group wants video recordings from the devices to be quickly erased.

"We would like the information to be deleted as quickly as possible if its not relevant to the reason the drone was deployed," said Shankar Narayan of the ACLU.

The full City Council will consider drone policies in early January.

The big question will be what to do with the videos they collect.  Who gets to see them and how they'll be stored when they become public record.  

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